Some city council members are calling for a hearing to resolve an intractable dispute among board of adjustment members over alleged religious and ethnic affronts that resulted in three members to boycott meetings for the past four months.
Council members Kenneth Morris, Ruby Cotton, and Alex Mendez have called for a special meeting to conduct a hearing with all the members of the board of adjustment to resolve the dispute which has been delaying and hindering economic development in the city.
“We have to find a way to resolve this issue. This has to stop,” said Mendez on Tuesday night. “Whomever is not doing the job the way they are supposed to need to leave.”
Morris said he has sent a letter to council president William McKoy to schedule hearing on the matter.
“There’s a lot of pettiness going on,” said Morris. “The council needs to bring the commissioners before it and deal with them plain and simple.”
The dispute among the board member go back quite some time, but intensified seven months ago, according to Aheya Khan.
Khan, Alaur Khondokar, and Montaha Deeb have been boycotting the meetings for the past four months after being subjected to disparaging remarks due to their religion. He said often whenever an individual bearing Islamic names such as Mohammed or Ahmed appears before the board other members call on the three Muslim board members to recuse themselves due to unfounded conflict of interest.
“It’s continued harassment,” said Khan.
Chairman of the nine-member board of adjustment Gerald Thaxton declined to comment on Wednesday evening.
Khan said the three members were ill-treated by Thaxton, commissioner Geraldine Rayfield, and secretary Margarita Rodriguez.
Rayfield could not be reached for comments.
Cotton who appointed Rayfield defended her. She said the members who missed the meetings should be removed. She also said she did not see any racist or offensive remarks by Rayfield on the meeting transcripts.
Khan said some of the remarks were made off the record and are not noted down. However, he pointed to the re-organization meeting in mid-2015 in which chairwoman Deeb was succeeded by Thaxton. In that July 9th, 2015 meeting, Khan nominated Deeb for chairperson, at which point Rayfield told him to withdraw his nomination.
Khan said Rayfield’s and others conduct was unprofessional. The transcript states Rayfield raised a residency issue and mentioned a conflict of interest. The meeting transcript is vague and does not mention specifics.
McKoy described the situation as “delicate,” “sensitive,” and complicated.” He said the issue has been referred to the city’s law director and mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration.
The administration wanted no part in the matter. Domenick Stampone, the city’s law director, said the situation is best resolved by the disputants.
Stampone said the members of the board of adjustment are appointed by council members and the council has to determine what it wishes to do.
“All I want them to do is bring up the issue and resolve it,” said Khan. City officials were made aware of the situation in October, but not much has been done to resolve the matter.
The dispute has not resulted in meeting cancellations due to lack of quorum, said Stampone; however, many developers are opting to postpone their applications. Khan explained developers need five votes for approval. With only six members present developers take a risk.
Mendez and Morris said they have received complaints from developers.
“Some of the questions they are being asked by the commissioners have racial overtones,” said Morris. He said the board should be judging applications based on its merits and based on the current zoning laws.
“Part of the problem is there’s no training that goes on there. There’s no orientation,” said Morris attributing the cause of the unprofessional environment at the board of adjustment.